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Masaccio
Detail of St. Peter Raising the Son of Theophilus and St. Peter Enthroned as First Bishop of Antioch, Brancacci Chapel, S. Maria del Carmine, Florence
Birth name Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Mone (Simone) Cassai
Born December 21, 1401
San Giovanni Valdarno, Italy
Died 1428
Rome
Nationality Italian
Field Painting, Fresco
Movement Early Renaissance
Works Brancacci Chapel (Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, [[ Tribute Money]]) c. 1425
Pisa Altarpiece 1426
Holy Trinity c. 1427
Patrons Felice de Michele Brancacci
ser Giuliano di Colino degli Scarsi da San Giusto
Influenced by Giotto, Brunelleschi, Donatello, Masolino

Masaccio (born Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Simone; December 21, 1401 – autumn 1428), was the first great painter of the Quattrocento period of the Italian Renaissance. According to Vasari, Masaccio was the best painter of his generation because of his skill at recreating lifelike figures and movements as well as a convincing sense of three-dimensionality.[1]

The name Masaccio is a humorous version of Maso (short for Tommaso), meaning "big", "fat", "clumsy" or "messy" Tom. The name may have been created to distinguish him from his principal collaborator, also called Maso, who came to be known as Masolino ("little/delicate Tom").

Despite his brief career, he had a profound influence on other artists. He was one of the first to use Linear perspective in his painting, employing techniques such as vanishing point in art for the first time. He also moved away from the International Gothic style and elaborate ornamentation of artists like Gentile da Fabriano to a more naturalistic mode that employed perspective and chiaroscuro for greater realism.

Contents

Early Life

Masaccio was born to Giovanni di Simone Cassai and Jacopa di Martinozzo in Castel San Giovanni di Altura, now San Giovanni Valdarno (today part of the province of Arezzo, Tuscany).[2] His father was a notary and his mother the daughter of an innkeeper of Barberino di Mugello, a town a few miles south of Florence. His family name, Cassai, comes from the trade of his paternal grandfather Simone and granduncle Lorenzo, who were carpenters - cabinet makers ("casse", hence "cassai"). His father died in 1406, when Tommaso was only five; in that year a brother was born, called Giovanni (1406-1486) after the dead father. He also was to become a painter, with the nickname of lo Scheggia meaning "the splinter." [3] In 1412 Monna Jacopa married an elderly apothecary, Tedesco di maestro Feo, who already had several daughters, one of whom grew up to marry the only other documented painter from Castel San Giovanni, Mariotto di Cristofano (1393-1457).

There is no evidence for Masaccio's artistic education.[4] Renaissance painters traditionally began an apprenticeship with an established master at about the age of 12; Masaccio would likely have had to move to Florence to receive his training, but he was not documented in the city until he joined the painters guild (the Arte de' Medici e Speziali) as an independent master on January 7, 1422, signing as "Masus S. Johannis Simonis pictor populi S. Nicholae de Florentia."

First Works

The first works attributed to Masaccio are the San Giovenale Triptych (1422) and the Virgin and Child with Saint Anne (Sant'Anna Metterza)(c. 1424) at the Uffizi. The San Giovenale altarpiece was only discovered in 1961 in the church of San Giovenale at Cascia di Reggello, which is very close to Masaccio's hometown. It represents the Virgin and Child with angels in the central panel, Sts. Bartholomew and Blaise on the left panel, and Sts. Juvenal (i.e. San Giovenale) and Anthony Abbot in the right panel. The painting has lost much of its original framing, and its surface is badly abraded.[5]. Nevertheless, Masaccio's concern to suggest three-dimensionality through volumetric figures and foreshortened forms (a revival of Giotto's approach, rather than a continuation of contemporary trends) is already apparent. The second work was perhaps Masaccio's first collaboration with the older and already-renowned artist, Masolino da Panicale (1383/4-c. 1436). The circumstances of the 2 artists' collaboration are unclear; since Masolino was considerably older, it seems likely that he brought Masaccio under his wing, but the division of hands in the Virgin and Child with Saint Anne is so marked - Masolino is believed to have painted the figure of St. Anne and the angels that hold the cloth of honor behind her, while Masaccio painted the more important Virgin and Child on their throne - that it is hard to see the older artist as the controlling figure in this commission.[6] Masolino's figures are delicate, graceful and somewhat flat, while Masaccio's are solid and hefty.

Maturity

In Florence, Masaccio could study the works of Giotto and become friends with Brunelleschi and Donatello. According to Vasari, at their prompting in 1423 Masaccio travelled to Rome with Masolino: from that point he was freed of all Gothic and Byzantine influence, as may be seen in his altarpiece for the Carmelite Church in Pisa. The traces of influences from ancient Roman and Greek art that are present in some of Masaccio's works presumably originated from this trip: they should also have been present in a lost Sagra, (today known through some drawings, including one by Michelangelo), a fresco commissioned for the consecration ceremony of the church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence (April 19, 1422). It was destroyed when the church's cloister was rebuilt at the end of the 16th century.

The Tribute Money, fresco in the Brancacci Chapel in Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence

Brancacci Chapel

In 1424 the "duo preciso e noto" ("well and known duo") of Masaccio and Masolino was commissioned by the powerful and rich Felice Brancacci to execute a cycle of frescoes for the Brancacci Chapel in the church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence. Painting began around 1425 with the two artists probably working simultaneously. For reasons that are unclear they left the chapel unfinished, and it was completed by Filippino Lippi in the 1480s. The iconography of the fresco decoration is somewhat unusual; while the majority of the frescoes represent the life of St. Peter, 2 scenes, on either side of the the threshold of the chapel space, depict the temptation and expulsion of Adam and Eve. As a whole the frescoes represent human sin and its redemption through the actions of Peter, the first pope.[7] The style of Masaccio's scenes shows the influence of Giotto especially. Figures are large, heavy, and solid; emotions are expressed through faces and gestures; and there is a strong impression of naturalism throughout the paintings. Unlike Giotto, however, Masaccio uses linear and atmospheric perspective, directional light, and chiaroscuro, which is the representation of form through light and color without outlines. As a result his frescoes are even more convincingly lifelike than those of his trecento predecessor.

When it was cleaned in the 1980s, Masaccio's fresco of The Expulsion (1426–1427) lost the added fig leaves.

The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, depicts a distressed Adam and Eve, chased from the garden by a threatening angel. Adam covers his face to express his shame, while Eve's shame requires her to cover her body. The fresco had a huge influence on Michelangelo. Another major work is The Tribute Money in which Jesus and the Apostles are depicted as neo-classical archetypes. Scholars have often noted that the shadows of the figures all fall away from the chapel window, as if the figures are lit by it; this an added stroke of verisimilitude and further tribute to Masaccio's innovative genius. In the Resurrection of the Son of Theophilus he painted a pavement in perspective, framed by large buildings to obtain a depth of field and three-dimensional space in which the figures are placed proportionate to their surroundings. In this he was a pioneer in applying the newly discovered rules of perspective.

On September 1425 Masolino left the work and went to Hungary. It is not known if this was because of money quarrels with Felice or even if there was an artistic divergence with Masaccio. It has also been supposed that Masolino planned this trip from the very beginning, and needed a close collaborator who could continue the work after his departure.

Fresco in the Brancacci Chapel in Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence

Some of the scenes completed by the duo were lost in a fire in 1771; we know about them only through Vasari's biography. The surviving parts were extensively blackened by smoke, and the recent removal of marble slabs covering two areas of the paintings has revealed the original appearance of the work. Masaccio left the frescoes unfinished in 1426 in order to respond to other commissions, probably coming from the same patron. However, it has also been suggested that the declining finances of Felice Brancacci were insufficient to pay for any more work, so the painter therefore sought work elsewhere.

Resurrection of the Son of Theophilus

Masaccio returned in 1427 to work again in the Carmine, beginning the Resurrection of the Son of Theophilus, but apparently left it, too, unfinished, though it has also been suggested that the painting was severely damaged later in the century because it contained portraits of the Brancacci family, at that time excoriated as enemies of the Medici. This painting was either restored or completed more than fifty years later by Filippino Lippi.

The Pisa Polyptych

On February 19, 1426 Masaccio was commissioned by Giuliano di Colino degli Scarsi da San Giusto, for the sum of 80 florins, to paint a major altarpiece, the Pisa Polyptych, for his chapel in the church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Pisa. The work was dismantled and dispersed in the 18th century, and only eleven of about twenty original panels have been rediscovered in various collections around the world.[8] The central panel of the altarpiece(The Madonna and Child) is now in the National Gallery, London. Although it is very damaged, the work features a sculptural and human Madonna as well as a convincing perspectival depiction of her throne. Masaccio probably worked on it entirely in Pisa, shuttling back and forth to Florence, where he was still working on the Brancacci Chapel. In these years Donatello was also working in Pisa at a monument for Cardinal Rinaldo Brancacci, to be sent to Naples. It has been suggested that Masaccio's first ventures in plasticity and perspective were based on Donatello's sculpture, before he could study Brunelleschi's more scientific approach to perspective.

The Trinity

Around 1427 Masaccio won a prestigious commission to produce a Holy Trinity for the Dominican church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence. No documents record the patron of the fresco, but at its foot, in the floor of the church, there was a tombstone reading "Domenico di Lenzo e suorum 1426," suggesting that the painting was made to commemmorate this man and his family.[9] Probably it is Domenico Lenzi who is represented to the left of the Virgin in the painting, while his wife is right of St. John the Evangelist. The fresco, considered by many to be Masaccio's masterwork, is the eaarliest surviving painting to use systematic linear perspective, possibly devised by Masaccio with the assistance of Brunelleschi himself. [[Image:Masaccio trinity.jp g|thumb|left|Holy Trinity, in full: "Trinity with the Virgin, Saint John the Evangelist, and Donors" (c. 1427) - Fresco, Santa Maria Novella, Florence]]

Other Paintings

Masaccio produced two other works, a Nativity and an Annunciation, now lost, before leaving for Rome, where his companion Masolino was frescoing a chapel with scenes from the life of St. Catherine in the Basilica di San Clemente. It has never been confirmed that Masaccio collaborated on that work, even though it is possible that he contributed to Masolino's polyptych for the altar of Santa Maria Maggiore with his panel portraying St. Jerome and St. John the Baptist, now in the National Gallery of London. Masaccio died at the end of 1428. According to a legend, he was poisoned by a jealous rival painter.

Only four frescoes undoubtedly from Masaccio's hand still exist today, although many other works have been at least partially attributed to him. Others are believed to have been destroyed.

Legacy

Masaccio profoundly influenced the art of painting in the Renaissance. According to Vasari, all Florentine painters studied his frescoes extensively in order to "learn the precepts and rules for painting well". He transformed the direction of Italian painting, moving it away from the idealizations of Gothic art, and, for the first time, presenting it as part of a more profound, natural, and humanist world.

See also

Virgin Mary with pseudo-Arabic halo, by Masaccio (1426).[10]

Main works

Notes

  1. ^ Giorgio Vasari, Le Vite de' piu eccellenti pittori, scultori ed architettori, ed. Gaetano Milanesi, Florence, 1906, II, 287-288.
  2. ^ For English overviews of Masaccio's life and works, with references to the primary and secondary sources, see John T. Spike, Masaccio, New York: 1996, 21-64, and Diane Cole Ahl, The Cambridge Companion to Masaccio, Cambridge, 2002, 3-5.
  3. ^ On Giovanni's career, see Luciano Bellosi and Margaret Haines, Lo Scheggia, Florence, 1999.
  4. ^ Vasari (II, 295) implies that Masolino was Masaccio's teacher, but the earliest known work by Masaccio (the San Giovenale Triptych) is painted in a style so different from Masolino's approach that it is hard to tie the two together (Luciano Berti, "Masaccio 1422," Commentari 12 (1961) 84-107. Scholars cannot agree on any teacher for the young artist, though several names (Mariotto di Cristofano, Bicci di Lorenzo, Niccolo di ser Lapo) have been put forward. Recently scholars have also suggested that he may have trained as a manuscript illuminator. Roberto Bellucci and Cecilia Frosinini, "Masaccio: Technique in Context," in The Cambridge Companion to Masaccio, ed. Diane Cole Ahl, Cambridge, 2002, 105-122.
  5. ^ Roberto Bellucci and Cecilia Frosinini, "The San Giovenale Altarpiece," in The Panel Paintings of Masolino and Masaccio, ed. Carl Brandon Strehlke, Milan, 2002, 69-79; Dillian Gordon, "The Altarpieces of Masaccio," in The Cambridge Companion to Masaccio, ed. Diane Cole Ahl, Cambridge, 2002, 124-126.
  6. ^ Roberto Longhi, "Fatti di Masolino e di Masaccio," Critica d'arte 25-6 (1940) 145-191.
  7. ^ Umberto Baldini and Ornella Casazza, The Brancacci Chapel, New York, 1990; Diane Cole Ahl, "The Brancacci Chapel," in The Cambridge Companion to Masaccio, ed. Diane Cole Ahl, Cambridge, 2002, 138-157.
  8. ^ Jill Dunkerton and Dillian Gordon, "The Pisa Altarpiece," in The Panel Paintings of Masolino and Masaccio: The Role of Technique, ed. Carl Brandon Strehlke, Milan, 2002, 89-109.
  9. '^ Rona Goffen, Masaccio's 'Trinity, Cambridge, 1998; Timothy Verdon, "Masaccio's Trinity, in The Cambridge Companion to Masaccio, ed. Diane Cole Ahl, Cambridge, 2002, 158-176.
  10. ^ Mack, p.66

References

  • Mack, Rosamond E. Bazaar to Piazza: Islamic Trade and Italian Art, 1300-1600, University of California Press, 2001 ISBN 0520221311

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

MASACCIO (1402-1429), Italian painter. Tommaso Guidi, son of a notary, Ser Giovanni di Simone Guidi, of the family of the Scheggia, who had property in Castel S. Giovanni di Val d'Arno, was born in 1402 (according to Milanesi, on the 21st of December 1401), and acquired the nickname of Masaccio, which may be translated "Lubberly Tom," in consequence of his slovenly dressing and deportment. From childhood he showed a great inclination for the arts of design, and he is said to have studied under his contemporary Masolino da Panicale. In 1421, or perhaps 1423, he was enrolled in the gild of the speziali (druggists) in Florence, in 1424 in the gild of painters. His first attempts in painting were made in Florence, and then in Pisa. Next he went to Rome, still no doubt very young; although the statement that he returned from Rome to Florence, in 1420, when only eighteen or nineteen, seems incredible, considering the works he undertook in the papal city. These included a series of frescoes still extanf in a chapel of the church of S. Clemente, a Crucifixion, and scenes from the life of St Catherine and of St Clement, or perhaps some other saint. Though much inferior to his later productions, these paintings are, for naturalism and propriety of representation, in advance of their time. Some critics, however, consider that the design only, if even that, was furnished by Masaccio, and the execution left to an inferior hand; this appears highly improbable, as Masaccio, at his early age, can scarcely have held the position of a master laying out work for subordinates; indeed Vasari says that Lubberly Tom was held in small esteem at all times of his brief life. In the Crucifixion subject the group of the Marys is remarkable; the picture most generally admired is that of Catherine, in the presence of Maxentius, arguing against and converting eight learned doctors. After returning to Florence, Masaccio was chiefly occupied in painting in the church of the Carmine, and especially in that "Brancacci Chapel" which he has rendered famous almost beyond rivalry in the annals of painting.

The chapel had been built early in the 15th century by Felice Michele di Piuvichese Brancacci, a noble Florentine. Masaccio's work in it began probably in 1423, and continued at intervals until xvII. 27 1792.1792-1794-1794-1797 Democratic Republican1797-1798Federalist1798-1801Democratic Republican1801-1803-1806-18081808-1809Whig1809-1811Democratic Republican 181 I-1 812 Federalist1812-1815-1818-1819 Democratic Republican1819-1822f/ Jackson Democrat Anti-Jackson Whig De ocrat Democrat American or Unionist Democrat Republican Democrat1825-1828-1828-18291829-1830-1830-18311831-1832-1832-18331833-1835-1835-18381838-1841-1841-18441844-1847-1847-18501850-1853-1853-18571857-1861-1861-18651865-1868-1868-18721872-1874-1874-18761876-1880-1880-18841884-1885-1885-18881888-1892-1892-18961896-1900-1900-19041904-1908-1908 - he finally quitted Florence in 1428. There is a whole library-shelf of discussion as to what particular things were done by Masaccio and what by Masolino, and long afterwards by Filippino Lippi, in the Brancacci Chapel, and also as to certain other paintings by Masaccio in the Carmine. He began with a trial piece, a majestic figure of St Paul, not in the chapel; this has perished. A monochrome of the Procession for the Consecration of the Chapel, regarded as a wonderful example, for that early period, of perspective and of grouping, has also disappeared; it contains portraits of Brunelleschi, Donatello and many others. In the cloister of the Carmine was discovered in recent years d portion of a fresco by Masaccio representing a procession; but this, being in colours and not in monochrome, does not appear to be the Brancacci procession. As regards the works in the Brancacci chapel itself, the prevalent opinion now is that Masolino, who used to be credited with a considerable portion of them, did either nothing, or at most the solitary compartment which represents St Peter restoring Tabitha to life, and the same saint healing a cripple. The share which Filippino Lippi bore in the work admits of little doubt; to him are due various items on which the fame of Masaccio used principally to be based - as for instance the figure of St Paul addressing Peter in prison, which Raphael partly appropriated; and hence it may be observed that an eloquent and often-quoted outpouring of Sir Joshua Reynolds in praise of Masaccio ought in great part to be transferred to Filippino. What Masaccio really painted in the chapel appears with tolerable certainty to be as follows, and is ample enough to sustain the high reputation he has always enjoyed: - (1) The "Temptation of Adam and Eve"; (2) "Peter and the Tribute-Money"; (3) The "Expulsion from Eden"; (4) "Peter Preaching"; (5) "Peter Baptizing"; (6) "Peter Almsgiving"; (7) "Peter and John curing the Sick"; (8) "Peter restoring to Life the Son of King Theophilus of Antioch" was begun by Masaccio, including the separate incident of "Peter Enthroned," but a large proportion is by Filippino; (9) the double subject already allotted to Masolino may perhaps be by Masaccio, and in that case it must have been one of the first in order of execution. A few words may be given to these pictures individually. (1) The "Temptation" shows a degree of appreciation of nude form, corresponding to the feeling of the antique, such as was at that date unexampled in painting. (2) The "Tribute-Money," a full, harmonious and expressive composition, contains a head reputed to be the portrait of Masaccio himself - one of the apostles, with full locks, a solid resolute countenance and a pointed beard. (3) The "Expulsion" was so much admired by Raphael that, with comparatively slight modifications, he adopted it as his own in one of the subjects of the Logge of the Vatican. (5) "Peter Baptizing" contains some nude figures of strong naturalistic design; that of the young man, prepared for the baptismal ceremony, who stands half-shivering in the raw air, has always been a popular favourite and an object of artistic study. (8) The restoration of the young man to life has been open to much discussion as to what precise subject was in view, but the most probable opinion is that the legend of King Theophilus was intended.

In 1427 Masaccio was living in Florence with his mother, then for the second time a widow, and with his younger brother Giovanni, a painter of no distinction; he possessed nothing but debts. In 1428 he was working, as we have seen, in the Brancacci chapel. Before the end of that year he disappeared from Florence, going, as it would appear, to Rome, to evade the importunities of creditors. Immediately afterwards, in 1429, when his age was twenty-seven or twenty-eight, he was reported dead. Poisoning by jealous rivals in art was rumoured, but of this nothing is known. The statement that several years afterwards, in 1443, he was buried in the Florentine Church of the Carmine, without any monument, seems to be improbable, and to depend upon a confused account of the dates, which have now, after long causing much bewilderment, been satisfactorily cleared up from extant documents.

It has been said that Masaccio introduced into painting the plastic boldness of Donatello, and carried out the linear perspective of Paolo Uccello and Brunelleschi (who had given him practical instruction), and he was also the first painter who made some considerable advance in atmospheric perspective. He was the first to make the architectural framework of his pictures correspond in a reasonable way to the proportions of the figures. In the Brancacci chapel he painted with extraordinary swiftness. The contours of the feet and articulations in his pictures are imperfect; and his most prominent device for giving roundness to the figures (a point in which he made a great advance upon his predecessors) was a somewhat mannered way of putting the high lights upon the edges. His draperies were broad and easy, and his landscape details natural, and superior to his age. In fact, he led the way in representing the objects of nature correctly, with action, liveliness and relief. Soon after his death, his work was recognized at its right value, and led to notable advances; and all the greatest artists of Italy, through studying the Brancacci chapel, became his champions and disciples.

Of the works attributed to Masaccio in public or private galleries hardly any are authentic. The one in the Florentine Academy, the "Virgin and Child in the Lap of St Anna," is an exception. The so-called portrait of Masaccio in the Uffizi Gallery is more probably Filippino Lippi; and Filippino, or Botticelli, may be the real author of the head, at first termed a Masaccio, in the National Gallery, London.

An early work on Masaccio was that of T. Patch, Life with Engravings (Florence, 1770-1772). See Layard, The Brancacci Chapel, &c. (1868); H. Eckstein, Life of Masaccio, Giotto, &c. (1882); Charles Yriarte, Tommaso dei Guid (1894). (W. M. R.)


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Simple English

Tommaso Guidi, better known as Masaccio, (1401 - 1428), was a famous painter of the Italian Renaissance. He worked in Florence. Masaccio was a nickname that meant Fat Untidy Tom. He lived a very short life and only a few of his paintings exist, but they were so different to the style of other artists around him that they helped other painters to see things in a new way.

Contents

Biography

Youth

Masaccio was born on 21 December, 1401, in the town of San Giovanni Valdarno, in the valley of the Arno River, near Florence. He was the son of a notary, a person who writes legal documents. His older brother became a painter and moved to Florence to the workshop of a painter called Bicci di Lorenzo. It is not known for certain, but it is thought that Masaccio may have trained at the same workshop. Masaccio's brother was nicknamed Lo Scheggia which means The Splinter, so it is thought that he was a skinny as Masaccio was fat.

In 1422, when he was 21, Masaccio was already known as a painter, because he joined the Company of Saint Luke, which was a guild that helped artists and set down the rules for their employment.

Earliest painting

The earliest known painting by Masaccio is the San Giovenale Triptych, dating from 1422. A "triptych" is a painting in three parts, most often used as an altarpiece. This altarpiece has in the middle panel the Virgin Mary and Christ Child on a throne. The wings, or side panels, each show two saints. Kneeling in front of the Virgin Mary are two little angels. One of the things that makes this painting different from most other paintings of the same time is that the angels are shown from the back. Their position is an invitation for the viewer to kneel down and worship the Virgin and Child as well. Masaccio used this way of making the viewer feel part of the scene in many of his paintings.

The plump solemn Baby Jesus with his fingers in his mouth, the three-dimensional look of the figures and the lack of rich decoration make this picture look very different from most other altarpieces of this time, which were painted in a style called International Gothic.

Portraits

In April 1422 an event took place in Florence that was to be important in Masaccio's life. A new church was opened, and there was a grand procession and feast to celebrate. The church was Santa Maria del Carmine and Masaccio went along with his good friends, the sculptor Donatello, the architect Brunelleschi and the painter Masolino.

After the feast day, it seems that Masaccio went to Rome, probably with his friends. Brunelleschi and Donatello like to spend a lot of time poking around among the ruins of Ancient Rome. It is believed that on this trip Masaccio also spent a lot of time poking around in the ruins. What he saw were the sculptures of a previous age- more life-like and realistic than anything that he had ever seen before. Many of the sculptures showed pocessions of figures, but each figure was different from the next, so that they all looked like real individual people.

When Masaccio returned to Florence he was given a job, a commission to paint a fresco of the procession that had taken place for the opening of the new church. Masaccio was inspired by what he had seen in Rome. The writer Vasari, who must have seen the picture before it was destroyed in the late 1500s, wrote that the people were in rows that were five or six deep, but painted in such a way that they were all different, fat ones and thin ones, tall ones and short ones, some in long cloaks, some in big hats, and every single one was a portrait of a real person who lived in Florence at the time. And of course, Masaccio put his friends Brunelleschi, Donatello and Masolino into the picture. Luckily, several artists made drawings at some time in the 1500s, so part of the design has been recorded, even though the painting itself has gone.

Working with Masolino

In the Uffizi Gallery in Florence is an altarpiece that shows the Madonna and Child with Saint Anne. The Madonna and Child are seated on a throne, as is usual. Saint Anne, who was the mother of the Virgin Mary, is shown standing behind Mary with one hand on her daughter's shoulder and the other hand above the head of the Baby Jesus in a sign of blessing. The painting may have been done for a convent of nuns who honoured Saint Anne.

It is believed that this painting is a collaboration; that two artists worked on it together. It is believed by Art Historians that Masaccio painted Mary and Jesus and the angel near the top right. It is believed that Saint Anne and the other four angels were painted by Masolino.

Masolino was 17 years older than Masaccio. His name was Tommaso da Panicale, so when the two began to work together, they were known as Masaccio and Masolino, which means "Little Tom". Those are the names by which they are remembered as painters.

The Brancacci Chapel

Collaborating

The Brancacci Chapel is a large chapel at the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine where Masaccio had previously worked painting the procession. It was sponsored by the Brancacci family who paid for its decoration. There are no written records to show why or how it happened, but it seems that Masaccio and Masolino were given the job together. At first everything went very well and then things went very badly. It looked as if the job would never be finished. In fact, it is lucky that the paintings in the chapel survived at all.

The job seems to have started in 1423 or 1424 but this is not certain. The plan of the paintings was to show firstly how Sin came into the world through the disobedience of Adam and Eve. A painting by Masolino shows their disobedience in taking fruit from the forbidden tree. A painting opposite it by Masaccio shows Adam and Eve in disgrace, being chased out of the Garden of Eden. The rest of the paintings show The Life of Saint Peter. This is because Saint Peter was the founder of the Catholic Church and the paintings were meant to show that the best way to know about God's love is through the Church.

It seems that Masaccio and Masolino happily planned a scheme of frescoes that went together is a pleasing way, even though they are in two styles. It is not hard to tell which scenes Masolino painted and which were done by Masaccio. Masolino's are prettier and more elegant. Masaccio's scenes show figures that are strong and have drapes like the statues that he saw in Rome. The thing that was most different in his painting to other artists of the same time was that the figures looked very solid and three-dimensional. He was influenced by the paintings of Giotto who had worked in Florence at the Church of Santa Croce nearly a hundred years earlier, but whose style of painting had given way to the International Gothic style.


Apart from the Adam and Eve scenes, which are the smallest of the pictures, the most famous is Masaccio's picture of The Tribute Money. This large picture is set partly against a background of mountains and a lake, and partly against the background of a town which is similar to Florence. There are three scenes from the story. In the centre of the picture is a large group, Jesus and his twelve disciples. A tax collector has come to ask for a payment, but none of the men have any money. Jesus tells Peter to go fishing in the lake. Peter looks rather annoyed, wondering what good it will do. To the left, the small figure of Peter is kneeling at the edge of the lake with a fish he has caught. Inside the fish is a coin. To the right side of the picture, Peter is shown giving the coin to the tax collector. He no longer looks argumentative. Instead, he looks humble. Masaccio has expertly shown the feelings of the characters, not only by their faces, but also through body language.

Neither Masaccio nor Masolino were able to work on the frescoes continuously, as they both kept getting other jobs to attend to. In 1428 Masaccio was asked to go to Rome to paint an altarpiece for one of the most important and ancient churches, Santa Maria Maggiore. He only painted one panel, Saint Jerome and Saint John the Baptist, before he died at the age of 27 years. Masolino and perhaps another artist, Domenico Veneziano worked on, and finished the altarpiece, which was later broken into pieces and scattered to galleries in different countries. Masaccio's panel is in the National Gallery, London.

Masolino lived for another 19 years, but he never went back to finish the Brancacci frescoes. The Brancacci family fell into disgrace and were chased out of Florence. One of Masaccio's pictures was attacked because it had portraits of some of the Brancacci family in it. Some 50 years later, in the 1480s, all the scenes that remained incomplete or not begun were painted by Filippino Lippi, who tried to respect the styles that Masaccio and Masolino had used before him.

Damage

The chapel, which was dedicated to Saint Peter, was re-dedicated to Our Lady of the Common People and to her honour a magnificent ancient altarpiece by Coppo di Marcovaldo, dating from about 1280 was put into place. Because this image of the Virgin Mary was said to work miracles, many hundreds of candles were lit in front of it which soon stained the frescoes so that their bright colours could no longer be seen. Eventually the painting was moved to a different church. Then part of the roof fell in and had to be replaced. More damage was done in re-decorating. In 1680 the Marquis Francesco Ferroni decided that the paintings were too old-fashioned and should all be pulled down. Luckily the Grand Duchess Vittoria della Rovere stopped this from happening. In 1734 a painter called Antonio Pillori cleaned the frescoes. Then in the 1770, there was a fire in the church, causing worse staining and some damage to the frescoes. (Luckily the precious altarpiece had been moved.)

Discoveries

In recent years there have been four interesting discoveries. During a minor cleaning in 1904 two slabs of marble near the altar were moved. Underneath were the bright colours that showed what the frescoes should look like. Examination of the areas where two windows had been changed showed the plans for two paintings that had been destroyed. The final discoveries in the chapel itself were two painted roundels with little angel faces in them, one by Masaccio and one by Masolino.

There was a problem to be solved in the minds of some art historians. Despite these interesting findings, there was a scene missing from the story of Saint Peter. It is the scene where Jesus says "You are Peter, and on this Rock I build my Church." This part of the story is of the greatest importance to the Roman Catholic Church because Peter was the first Bishop of Rome, and so the Pope rules as his direct line. The scene is usually shown by Jesus giving Peter the Keys of Heaven. The Keys, for hundreds of years, have been the symbol of the Pope. But the story of the Keys is completely missing.

Then, in the 1940s, John Pope-Hennessy, the director of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, realised that the museum owned a work of art that was exactly the thing that was missing from the Brancacci Chapel. It was a thin, almost flat marble slab delicately carved with the scene of Jesus giving the Keys to Peter. It was just the right size to make the front of an altar. And although it could not be proved, it was almost certainly carved by Masaccio's friend, Donatello.

The Trinity

At some time while he was working on the Brancacci Chapel, Masaccio painted a fresco for another church in Florence, Santa Maria Novella, the church of the Dominican Order. This is a very remarkable painting and one of Masaccio's most famous. It shows the Holy Trinity, (or God in three parts). God is shown as the eternal Creator, as the humble Sacrifice in Jesus on the Cross and as the inspiring Spirit. On either side of the Cross stand the Virgin Mary and Saint John. The two kneeling figures are the family who paid for the painting.

Masaccio has painted this very holy scene as if it was taking place in a deep recess or small chapel in the wall of the church. He has done this by using very accurate perspective. It is believed that the architect Brunelleschi may have helped him with this, as the painted architecture looks very much like buildings that Brunelleschi designed.

Influence

Vasari writes that Masaccio was not very famous in his own time. In 1440 his body was brought home to Florence and buried at Santa Maria del Carmine but no monument was put up in his honour. Shortly afterwards people began to honour him as a painter. Michelangelo and many other painters and sculptors went to the Brancacci Chapel to study Masaccio's paintings. His influence can be seen in the paintings of Fra Angelico, Piero della Francesca, Ghirlandaio and particularly Michelangelo.

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References


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